BB #32 – Driving

LA interchangeBrain Bubble posts are supposed to be short side thoughts, but the one just posted is another example of my inability to be brief. What can I say; I love words and the ideas we can express with them. To me, there are very few topics that don’t deserve a detailed discussion (you should see how much I cut out before I post)!

This post began as a comment — a reply to Lila on her recent post, Affluence, Toxic Parenting Buy Lenience for Horrific Teen DUI. It ran long, which you all know isn’t unusual and never stops me, but it concerned a topic that is near and dear to my heart. I’ve always planned to write about driving and drivers, but there are so many other topics I just hadn’t gotten to it, yet.

Here’s what I hope is a short(-ish) intro to my views on driving…

LA freewayI learned to drive in Los Angeles, and was part of the driving scene there from 1973 until 1984. (“Part of the scene” seems appropriate lingo for the time and location!) I had far-ranging delivery jobs in the late 70s and was a field service rep with a huge territory in the early 80s. I spent a lot of time on the roads — the things I’ve seen!

I will say that, at least at the time, driving was taken seriously in L.A. If you recall, for a while, we were shooting at each other for the offense of driving badly. (A strategy I always rather favored.) Despite how heavy the traffic was, it often moved along well, because everyone knew what they were doing, and — more importantly — trusted that everyone else did, too. And for the most part, at least there and then, the trust was usually well-placed.

I loved driving in L.A.! Granted, some of that may come from being paid for my time regardless of whether I was sitting — essentially outdoors — listening to tunes on the radio or actually inside somewhere working. But still, except at the worst times, driving in L.A. was fun. It was a very car-oriented culture.

LA Freeway open season (LA Story, Steve Martin)There’s a great sight gag in the wonderful LA Story, starring and written by Steve Martin. In it, he goes to visit his best friend. He drives. She lives four doors down from him. A more care-worn gag is when a visitor from England mentions walking somewhere and everyone cracks up, because “No one walks in L.A.!”

When I moved to Minnesota in ’84 I was struck by the lack of pattern to the driving. No one seemed to understand that it’s a form of cooperative dance, and you have to be part of the flow. The greatest sin a driver commits is breaking the flow. There’s a huge range of driving skill here from the timid to the unskilled reckless. There is a handful of us skilled, sometimes aggressive, drivers, and a whole lot of people who clearly don’t give driving a whole lotta thought.

I dunno… maybe it’s just me, I am big on intentional behavior…. but it seems that driving thousands of pounds of metal is one place where you might want to be really fucking intentional. It’s been decades, but I’ve driven in Boston and D.C. and found the same intentionality there that’s missing here. Big city driving accounts for some level of necessary skill, I think. The problem here is that the traffic is big city, but the driving sensibility isn’t (yet).

wow!Speaking of big city, I know D.C. has the whole corrupt politics thing going, plus being an east coast power center, but I think Southern California has it all beat hands down when it comes to self-indulgent self-gratification. In some ways, it all kind of started there! The film industry was always on the sybaritic side!

As for high-speed police chases, they do seem to cause more damage than not. Certainly being chased leads the chased to greater efforts (ever tried to chase a dog? they think it’s fun!). I say steal a page from Palin’s book: snipers in helicopters!


Okay, a little tongue-in-cheek, but driving is something I’ve always taken pretty seriously (and always enjoyed). I shall return to this topic anon!

(And less than 700 words! Okay, it was 699, but still. Of course, now it’s 712. No, wait, 714. 715. 716,… Arg!)

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

8 responses to “BB #32 – Driving

  • dianasschwenk

    Congratulations on the a-hem brevity of this post. I think everyone thinks they’re a good driver but I suspect the longer we drive the worse drivers we become!

  • The Color of Lila

    “The greatest sin a driver commits is breaking the flow. There’s a huge range of driving skill here from the timid to the unskilled reckless. There is a handful of us skilled, sometimes aggressive, drivers, and a whole lot of people who clearly don’t give driving a whole lotta thought.”

    AMEN to that… but it describes the DC Metro area quite well. How long ago were you driving here? I suspect things have gotten much worse… everyone is either going 10 under or 20 over the speed limit… not a good mix.

    Dawdling in the fast lane, refusing to move over to let faster traffic pass, weaving recklessly (probably a result of going insane behind the aforementioned slow drivers), tailgating, changing lanes with no warning (sometimes several lanes at once), running red lights, driving over the yellow lines in oncoming lanes, and cutting people off is ROUTINE every day.

    When we lived in Germany, I routinely commuted at 115 MPH down the Autobahn. Lane discipline is GREAT: if you’re faster, move left. If you’re slower, stay right. Pass and get back over. It really works!

    When we arrived back in the US at Baltimore, we rented a car and got on the interstate. The first thing we noticed – it was just months after 9/11 – was, “Look at all the American flags!” The second thing was, “Aaaaaa! These people are crazy!”

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Oh, boy, let’s see… Driving in D.C. would have been the late 80s, early 90s. I imagine it’s different everywhere, now. There are some interesting psychological elements having to do with how people behave towards others with physical distance, isolation or anonymity. I stumbled on some of it poking around for the Troll Bait post.

      As I understand it, Europeans see driving more as a privilege than perhaps USAnians do (who tend to see it as a god-given right). I’ve heard that you actually need to have a basic understanding of how your car works to get a license there!

      • The Color of Lila

        Wyrd, I can’t say how Europeans in general view driving… Lord knows it’s crazy in Italy, and the most fascinating thing about the Arc of Triumph in Paris was standing on top and watching the craziness in the traffic circle below (there are plenty of You Tube videos of that if you want to see it).

        But at least in Germany, YES. Driver’s Ed is very expensive, lasts two years and encompasses many driving conditions and vehicle maintenance knowledge. A new driver is on probation and can lose that expensive license even for too many parking tickets. No one wants that.

        Germans fully expect competence: it is actually illegal to run out of gas on the Autobahn.

        They are not real tolerant of road rage: you can be ticketed for rude gestures toward other drivers or even flashing your lights at them (if the Polizei see you).

        They expect people to cooperate: A great example is the “zipper merge.” Everyone stays in their own lane until the merge point is reached and then they actually (gasp) take turns merging (there are signs saying either “reissverschluss” (zip) or “einornden lassen”).

        And they don’t care for distracted driving. German car specs do not even include cup holders because you are supposed to be DRIVING, not picnicking in your car at 100 KPH. As one German told me when discussing cup holders: “If you want to eat and drink, pull over in a Rasthof and take a break.” Last I was there, using a cell while driving was already illegal, but I don’t know if any allowances have been made for hands-free calls or not.

        And then we came home… and have been cringing in horror ever since.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I’ve never been to the UK (one of the few things left on my bucket list), but from some stats I peeked at, the fatality rate there is extremely low (much lower than ours, and as I mentioned earlier, ours isn’t all that horrible). Back in the 70s I was in Italy and Germany (and briefly France, but quickly fled to back to Italy and up into Switzerland.

        I do remember the Italian driving. From my observation, it seemed like any minor traffic accident (and it was surprising how many of those I did observe the week or so I was there) required about 20 minutes of flamboyant arguing and arm waving before settling down to business. It was definitely better in Germany.

        I believe it is illegal to run out of gas on the freeway in the USA, and we do have some road rage laws, and a few places make cell phones illegal… I don’t know how much it’s enforced. One of my craws is the “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” attitude that sometimes occurs towards drunk drivers. Almost like drinking and driving was, well, you know, just one of those things people gonna do. Fortunately that seems to be changing, and I do sense some shift in other attitudes.

        Driving is another one of those things that USAnians take as a right more than a privilege, and we get downright uppity when someone messes with what we perceive as our rights.

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